If there was ever a press conference where things were said that are exactly what Bruins fans want to hear, it might have been the Friday afternoon call with David Backes after the rugged, hard-hitting, 32-year-old center signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension with the Black and Gold.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Backes is incredibly physical on the ice, holds himself and his teammates accountable off the ice, and plays full tilt with an aggressive in-your-face style that makes him exactly the kind of ass-kicker the B’s needed as a player.
It remains to be seen what Backes will look like physically at 36, or 37, at the tail end of this new contract that’s also very clearly an overpayment in term.
Backes feels like a great fit over the next couple of years in helping the Bruins get back to their Black and Gold roots, but the final few years of the five-year contract could be a case of big-time diminishing returns.
“We talked about the opportunity – most players would look at it and say, ‘Well, you’ve got Bergeron and Krejci, where am I playing?’ And David looked at it and said, ‘Boy, I get to play with Bergeron and Krejci, whether I’m playing behind them or with them on the wings.’ And he acknowledges, like ‘Wow, we’re a really deep team.’ I said to him, ‘Well, you might not start 62 percent of the time in your own zone as a result of this, and Bergeron might not have to take every draw in every penalty-kill situation. And David [Krejci] might get offensive starts that have drifted away from his game,'” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “So it just, there’s a domino effect in identifying what David Backes can bring to the table to our hockey club. But then you talk about the character piece, the leadership qualities and his willingness to want to win and it aligns with the guys that have won.
“The more we can surround our team and identify our team in that regard – now, this all being said, that our younger players have to step forward, emerge, have the opportunity to take a hold of it, and these guys are going to be the leading core to get us to where we want to go, and our younger players have to jump on board.”
The long-term future for the Bruins feels of less consequence to Don Sweeney and Cam Neely than the here and now, with the B’s management group noticeably concerned about immediately getting Boston back into the postseason with the Backes move. Granted, it’s still a year less in term than the Canucks shelled out for Loui Eriksson, but even this contract could very easily be burdensome salary cap-wise in the final few years of the deal. That goes doubly so for a big, strong American hitting machine like Backes, who logged a ton of booming hockey hits over the past 10 years.
Backes is a fiery, determined leader off the ice to go along with the aggressive, commanding presence on the ice. The former Blues captain is looking forward to bringing that to the Bruins dressing room.
In terms of style of play and solid leadership foundation, Backes is exactly what the Bruins needed up front after way too many passengers floated through last season. He’s also exactly the kind of player that speaks to the Bruins fan base and sets a tone with his willingness to pay the price in the danger areas all over the ice.
“Well from my time playing against Boston and the history of the team, it’s a blue-collar, hard-nosed, don't-take-crap-from-anybody type of team, and that’s the way that I feel I’ve built my game in 10 years in the league,” said Backes, who had 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games last season for the Blues. “I think that it should be a seamless fit to fill the few holes or deficiencies that, through the interview process, were identified, and continue to be strengths of mine in all facets of the game – five-on-five, power play, penalty kill. It just seemed like an awesome fit hockey-wise.”
The offense will also be welcome after Backes scored 206 goals and 460 points in 700 plus games for the Blues over the past 10 years, and has always seemed to flow naturally merging the offensive production with the punishing, overpowering physical play.
That leads to the aforementioned questions about Backes’ age given his physically taxing style of play, and concerns about how much longer he’ll be willing to throw his body around after leading the Blues in hits just about each and every season.
“I think that the physical style has been one of my calling cards for 10 years, and I think maybe if you start to slow down a little bit, and you get a little bit older, your intelligence and your hockey sense and your ability to think the game is accelerating maybe faster than you’re slowing down. Those types of efforts to be efficient I think make – in my world, I think it’s made me a better player and been able to carry that physical play and pick my spots at key moments, rather than just hitting everything that moves like it’s a rugby match,” said Backes. “Being able to perhaps finish on certain guys on the other team and other ones, it’s not worth going the extra two, three steps out of your way to expend that energy and to go for that hit. I’m 32. I’m not 52.
“I think there’s plenty of legs and plenty of physicality and energy left in me and the [contract] term has been something that maybe a few people have questioned, but for me, I expect to still be at the top of my game for that last year and be a contributing member for the Boston Bruins.”
Backes said he mostly discussed playing center with Bruins brass the past few days and that led to informed speculation that D Krejci could be on his way out for the top-four D-man Boston desperately needs on its roster. As much as the Bruins all spoke of things working out with the forwards now on the roster, the bottom line remains that Bergeron, Krejci and Backes are three right-handed centers being paid an exorbitant amount of money to be frontline guys down the middle.
Backes also left the door wide open to potentially fill in at the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand if the team needs him there, so, perhaps there is a way all of these talented forwards can co-exist together. But one thing remains: the driven, strong force of personality that is David Backes will be moving his family to Boston with an eye on setting a tone of work ethic, mental toughness, accountability and fire in the belly that has waned a little bit with the Bruins the past couple of seasons.
The former Blues captain is exactly the kind of adrenaline shot that the B’s need in the short term and that’s all the current Bruins decision-makers appear to be concerned about as they continue to push ahead with a roster rife with a gaping hole where a legit, puck-moving defenseman should be sitting.